Work in Sports
What We Learned
Three things we know after the Lions-Colts game
Updated: Monday October 30, 2000 1:44 AM
INDIANAPOLIS -- Forging a three-way 6-2 midseason tie for first-place in the AFC East with Miami and the New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday shook off a sluggish second-half effort to hand the Detroit Lions their first road loss of the season this year, 30-18 at the RCA Dome. Sports Illustrated's Don Banks checks in with three observations from the game:
1. The Lions are rightfully questioning their struggling passing game in light of the loss to Indianapolis. Detroit quarterback Charlie Batch did little to aid the Lions' cause, posting one of the more disjointed passing efforts of this season's first half. In fairness to Batch, he was under siege almost every time he dropped back to pass in the first half, as the Lions offensive line put little fight against the Colts rush.
Batch's final numbers weren't atrocious: 18-of-39 for 190 yards, three sacks for minus 16 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. But he also lost one of the Lions' two fumbles and took a damaging safety when tackled by Colts rookie defensive tackle Josh Williams with 2:55 left in the first half.
Batch gained 62 yards rushing on four carries, but those attempts again were indicative of the ferocity of the Colts pass rush. Through one quarter, Batch had one completion in five attempts, for one yard, that being a desperation shuttle pass thrown to tight end David Sloan just before the rush closed in once again.
At one point late in the first half, Batch had completed just three passes on 10 attempts, for 11 yards, none to a receiver. Two of those completions were to Sloan, and the other to third-down back Mario Bates, again in desperation. Batch did not connect with a receiver until just seven seconds remained in the first half (Herman Moore on a 26-yard pass). The Lions trailed 23-0 at the break.
Lions head coach Bobby Ross lamented Detroit's "disastrous first half" and cited his team's horrid pass protection. "Where we aren't very good right now is the vertical part of our passing game," Ross said. "The up-field type of stuff. For one, the protection was awful."
Williams' safety made it 16-0 Indianapolis with 2:55 left in the first half. Batch threw two second-half interceptions, blunting some of the many opportunities that four Colts turnovers presented Detroit. Batch said the RCA Dome crowd noise played a part in his pass-rush troubles, by creating miscommunication on the offensive line.
Batch entered the game with just modest statistics this season: seven touchdown passes and the same number of interceptions, and a 70.8 rating. But it is the pass pressure and Batch's response to it that concerns the Lions the most. Batch has been sacked 27 times in just seven games, and he may be developing bad habits -- in the way of hurrying his set-up and delivery -- in anticipation of being hit. With a game next week against visiting Miami, which features one of the league's best pass rushes, Batch's scrambling days may be far from finished.
2. The Colts defense took a blow last week with the loss of first-round linebacker Rob Morris for the season with a torn quadriceps. But Indianapolis has found itself a keeper in fourth-round defensive tackle Josh Williams. Making his third start of the season Sunday, in place of the injured Ellis Johnson (arthroscopic knee surgery), Williams was a play-maker against the Lions, collecting two tackles, one sack for a safety and recovering a fumble.
And he did it all while wearing a soft cast on his broken right thumb, which he hurt in last week's home victory against New England. A 6-foot-3, 284-pound former University of Michigan standout, Williams has 27 tackles this season, with 2 1/2 sacks, one fumble forced and one recovered. His 9-yard sack of Lions quarterback Charlie Batch with 2:55 remaining in the first half gave Indianapolis a 16-0 lead. It was the second Colts safety of the season -- right end Chad Bratzke had the other -- and gave the franchise more than one safety for the first time since 1962.
Williams' fumble recovery came after Batch lost control when hit by Bratzke at the Lions 10 with 2:19 remaining in the first quarter. The Colts squandered the scoring opportunity when running back Edgerrin James fumbled through the end zone for a touchback on the ensuing play.
With Williams leading the charge, the Colts shut out the Lions in the first half -- a feat they had not managed against any team since December 1997, against Miami.
"We stuck together as a defense and made some plays when we had to today," Williams said. "I tried to fly around as much as possible. I really take pride in my pursuit to the ball."
3. We know this much in the wake of the Colts' victory: Indianapolis head coach Jim Mora is no Fantasy Football player or point-spread gambler. Why else would Mora publicly chastise himself after the game for not instructing Colts running back Edgerrin James to fall down on purpose before scoring the game-capping 24-yard touchdown run with 1:42 remaining?
On the play, a second-and-9 from the Lions' 24, Mora contended that James should have taken a knee after picking up the first down, thereby allowing the Colts to run out the clock with a 23-18 lead. But Mora blamed himself for not making James aware of the situation.
"That was a coaching error on my part," Mora said. "It's something we're going to have to practice. Edgerrin should have dropped on that touchdown. He shouldn't have scored. We make the first down and he goes down, and the game's over. We just run out the clock.
"I'm not blaming him. That's something we didn't cover [in practice]. That could hurt us."
Ah, but the Colts, thanks to James' late touchdown, did cover. The game's final betting line was Indianapolis by 6 1/2 points. And all those Fantasy Football addicts got the benefit of James' only touchdown of the day. As for the Lions, they took possession at the Detroit 25, trailing by 12 points. They moved the ball 49 yards but the drive ended when regulation expired.
James, who finished with 139 rushing yards on 31 carries, afterward expressed surprise that he would even be asked to consider such atypical strategy on his longest run of the game.
"The only thing on my mind is scoring touchdowns and making plays," James said. "I really wasn't aware of [Mora's thinking]. It would have been hard for me to stop because that's an opportunity that you rarely get, to get into the open field and just cruise into the end zone."